A class exercise asking students at Saratoga Springs High School to score their privileged status raised concerns among parents worried about the assignment’s underlying message and the use of offensive words.
Parents said it was harmful to have students score themselves on factors like “attractiveness,” “disability” and race, potentially reinforcing negative feelings, and some argued the assignment and the teacher unfairly singled out white male students as especially privileged.
“When we looked at that form, we felt a lot of terms on there could really be offensive to a lot of kids,” said a parent whose son was given the assignment. The parent didn’t want to be named out of concern it would draw attention to the parent’s children. “I felt like this lesson being pushed in the classroom is being more divisive than bringing kids together.”
The activity, copies of which were posted to social media last week, asked students to score how privileged they are: add 25 points if you are white, add 25 points if you are male, add 20 points if you are straight; subtract 100 points if you are black, subtract 50 points if you are female, subtract 150 points if you are gay.
At the end of the survey, students scoring negative 100 points or less were considered “very disprivileged,” while students who scored above 100 points were told to “check it daily” — as in check their privilege daily.
The worksheet also included outdated and offensive words and point tallies that appeared to play on cultural stereotypes. Jewish, for instance, was rated as the most privileged religion, earning a student 25 points compared to five points of privilege for a Christian student. A Muslim student lost 50 points under the activity.
On Feb. 6, the day before the activity made its way to the marketing class, teachers at the high school participated in a professional development session on cultural competency and awareness. The privilege survey was not shared as part of that training, district spokeswoman Maura Manny said, but it was one of several activities discussed at a recent faculty meeting.
“This topic becomes very sensitive and very personal very quickly,” said Catherine Snyder, director of the Clarkson University teachers education program based in Schenectady. Snyder said the master’s program she manages last year added 15 hours of workshops focused on diversity and inclusion. More broadly, she said educators are working to move from teaching tolerance – getting students to accept one another – to teaching students a deeper level of understanding one another.
“We’ve challenged ourselves as a profession to take a big leap from tolerance to genuine understanding,” Snyder said. “[Educators] are trying to get students to understand that people do think differently and it’s your job as an individual to understand people have different points of view… Kids need to start to be more understanding, and that’s not going to happen unless teachers are purposefully teaching in that direction.”
Yeah, I can’t think of a better way to get teenagers to be more understanding of each other than teaching them how to resent each other on the basis of race, religion, and sexual orientation. “Hey kids, did you know that Jews are 25 percent more privileged than you?” If these controllers can figure out a way to make phrenology progressive, they’ll do so, and say that those who oppose it are against science.
(Funnily enough, the Privilege Reflection Form the teacher handed out — see photograph above, or this local TV news report — was apparently put together as a parody by the troll site 4Chan — but the progressives teacher and principal at the school were too dense to understand this, even though the handout uses the word “retarded”.)
Seriously, when future historians write about our era, they are going to be utterly mystified as to why the educated leadership class of a country that, in spite of its many shortcomings, became the most successful multiracial society in the world … then threw it all away.
UPDATE: A reader comments:
A word about “Yugoslavia” in the title. I understand of course that it’s an evocative shorthand for descent into tribal conflict and not intended to hold up to scrutiny as a point of comparison. Still, Yugoslavia is not without its instructive lessons; however, they are not quite what they’re usually taken to be.
In the late 1980s, preceding the violent breakup that began in 1991, there were indeed campaigns to emphasize ethnic differences and grievances at the expense of commonalities. That is presumably one of the points of invoking Yugoslavia in this post. It echoes something you quoted from a Fukuyama piece in Foreign Affairs some weeks ago; writing against identity politics, he uses Yugoslavia as a warning of what happens when a multiethnic society fails to promote integration.
However, what’s usually forgotten is that for the preceding 40 years in “socialist” Yugoslavia, they tried quite hard to promote integration. “Brotherhood & Unity” was the slogan, and in its name, a stifling approach was taken to police the boundaries of permissible discussion about interethnic relations. It is *this failed approach* — this Titoist PC, rather than the subsequent nationalist backlash of the 1980s and 1990s — that is called to mind by today’s enforcement of “Diversity & Inclusion” in the U.S.
I could go on…. I happen to know a lot about this topic. I do think it’s quite relevant as you think about the lessons from Communist eastern Europe.